Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
“Lasso a Daydream”
by Nikki Grimes
There were no lassos where I grew up in the inner city, of course, but there were daydreams to be had, if you knew where to look. That’s the secret I shared with Gabriella, the main character in Words with Wings (Wordsong, 2013). Like Gabby, I was a girl who lived inside her head. I could play a game of jacks and daydream in one room, while young men shot up heroin across the hall in another. I could close my eyes and daydream to block out the sound of gunshots pinging past my window. Daydreaming was a coping mechanism, a way of life, a method for maintaining my sanity. But it was also something glorious, because daydreaming allowed me to create a space in which wordplay was the order of the day. And without wordplay, well, one of us wouldn’t be here.
I got into trouble for daydreaming in school. I wouldn’t have minded, except that trouble followed me home by way of my report card. You might know that “Report Card” was one of the first poems I wrote for Words with Wings. The lovely little comments section was always riddled with complaints in heavy ink: “…mind wanders…,” “…difficulty focusing…,” “…given to daydreaming….” Clearly, these note takers considered daydreaming to be less than desirable.
At one moment in the story, Gabriella seriously attempts to give up daydreaming. No one ever drove me to such an extreme because I never quite bought into the notion that daydreaming was bad, but I could easily imagine how gray the world suddenly seemed to Gabby.
Gabby was not the only key character in this tale. Mr. Spicer, Gabby’s teacher, is also front and center. His role wasn’t planned, though. When I first began work on Words, I wondered how teachers working today handled the daydreamers in their classrooms. I posted the question on Facebook, and received a flurry of responses. One, in particular, caught my attention. It came from a gentleman named Ed Spicer. He revealed that he regularly sets aside time in his classroom for students to daydream, and to write their daydreams down! A brilliant approach, I thought—one that earned Mr. Spicer a prominent place in my story line, and my heart. Now, through Words with Wings, I share Gabriella and Mr. Spicer with daydreamers everywhere.
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This material may not be used without the express written consent of Nikki Grimes. All images courtesy of Nikki Grimes.